Estonia ready to grant Navalny asylum

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (C) stands inside a glass cage prior to a hearing at the Babushkinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, 20 February 2021. [EPA-EFE/YURI KOCHETKOV]

Estonia is “seriously” considering granting Russian opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny asylum in case he is either banished or voluntarily leaves Russia, Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets said on Tuesday.

The anti-corruption campaigner, who is on hunger strike and whose allies say his life is in danger, is being treated at a prison hospital about 180km east of Moscow, amid reports of mistreatment and deteriorating health.

Offering Navalny the chance to leave Russia would be a welcomed gesture and depending on Navalny’s personal choice, Estonia would “seriously consider” granting him asylum status, Liimets told ERR News.

In the same interview, Estonia’s foreign minister also commented on former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ comments, suggesting all Russian citizens should be banned from entering the EU following the revelation that Russia was involved in an ammunition deposit blast in the Czech Republic 2014 that was followed by the expulsion of diplomats in a tit-for-tat move.

However, Liimets said she would not go as far as to sacrifice all communication channels and relations with Russia, since supporting democratic forces in the country requires maintaining “contact between people, cultural contacts and helping civil society in Russia remain strong.”

Also on the line is the unresolved border issue between the two countries, which “has been strained […] since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.”

“It is very important for the contractual base of mutual relations to be strong, which is what we have been working toward at the ministry and will continue to make efforts to achieve,” Liimets added.

A group of UN rights experts meanwhile expressed alarm at Navalny’s deteriorating health and called for his urgent medical evacuation from Russia.

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